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December 07 2011

19:20

Your 2011 holiday gift guide, brought to you by the news

Santa running down the street in Algers, France

If you want to save journalism, you might turn to journalism this year for all your Christmas shopping.

This weekend at NewsFoo, an O’Reilly “un-conference” for about 170 journalists and tech disrupters, the tech writer Mónica Guzmán posed a question: “Can’t we [news organizations] sell anything besides articles?” Yes, it turns out, and there are numerous examples of them trying it.

A couple of months ago Guzmán was talking to an entrepreneur in Seattle who had just sold his latest startup to Google. “We got to talking about journalism, and I’m always fascinated to listen to people who come from an innovative mindset, but not a news mindset, look at news. What he said, basically, is I don’t see how news is really going to innovate and move forward unless they can get past this idea that what they sell is just content.”

News organizations have one big advantage in business: They know their audience.

“We have a huge leg up when it comes to organizing information communities,” she said. “[News outlets] build those communities that can be really specific and really well defined.” (NewsFoo is generally off the record, but Guzmán talked with me after her session.)

Here are a few examples of all the ways news companies are selling non-news products to consumers. Some might look better wrapped up under the tree than others, but if you feel like supporting the news, maybe there’s room on your credit card for one or two of them.

Merchandise!

For the oenophile in your life, buy a gift subscription to the New York Times Wine Club. Six rare wines (four red, two white) for $90 per shipment, or $180 for the most exquisite Reserve Club varietals. Each bottle is paired with tasting notes and an NYT recipe. Europeans can sample Telegraph Wines, “one of the UK’s most respected wine merchants.” A case of six bottles of Prosecco goes for £54 and includes two complimentary Champagne flutes.

Spaceballs: The Flamethrower

The Telegraph doesn’t stop at wine. There’s a Telegraph Garden Shop, Motoring Shop, a travel shop for holiday cottages. You can buy earrings, duvet covers, snow boots, and clothes hangers. “They are the leading retailer of clothes hangers in the U.K.,” said Jeff Jarvis in an April 2010 Editor & Publisher story. The newspaper raked in a quarter of its profit in 2009 from selling things, he said.

The Onion cheaply repurposes tons of its own content into coffee-table books and framed prints. NPR, almost true to stereotype, sells “green gifts,” “gifts for gardeners,” and “gift for tea lovers.” None of those items have NPR branding, just the kind of things a typical NPR listener might like to buy. (And shoppers know their purchase helps support the news.)

The überaggregator Boing Boing sells stuff as weird as that which it aggregates, e.g., rubber finger tentacles, a remote-controlled flying shark, a bacon-scented air freshener. That site outsources the e-commerce software and payment processing.

Specialty iPhone apps

Santa's Hideout screen shot

There are plenty of smartphone and iPad apps that try to generate revenue for news organizations, but it’s less common for there to be an app that doesn’t have anything to do with the outlet’s journalism. Just today we wrote about Condé Nast’s new Santa app, which helps parents assemble and share lists of what their kids want for Christmas.

This summer Hearst Corp. launched its App Lab, a sort of digital R&D unit for the ad agencies who work with Hearst. It was Hearst that developed Manilla, a financial management product for consumers, earlier this year.

Events

In September, the web-only Texas Tribune launched the Texas Tribune Festival, a first annual symposium that brought together politicians, wonks, lobbyists, and others from the universe of Texas politics. (I interviewed editor Evan Smith about it this summer.) Tickets cost $125, but the real money comes from corporate sponsorships. In 2010, before the festival existed, the Tribune raised about $600,000 in event sponsorship, Smith told me. The Tribune festival was modeled on the New Yorker Festival, which also sells tickets and big-name sponsorships. Forbes follows a similar model for its CEO conferences around the world, but those tickets are a lot pricier.

Digital marketing services

Rubber finger tentacles

435 Digital is a Chicago consulting firm that does web design, SEO, and social media — actually, it’s a division of Tribune Co., but you would never know that from looking at its home page. The group is made up of the people who gave us Colonel Tribune and the ChicagoNow blog network.

GannettLocal, too, offers marketing services for local businesses that advertise in Gannett-owned papers. Condé Nast sells its in-house creative talent to advertisers, competing with the very agencies whose work fills the pages of its magazines.

Using reporters’ smarts

The Chronicle of Philanthropy, as I wrote this summer, packages its reporters’ in-house expertise about particular topics as paid webinars that cost as much as $96 apiece.

The premium content, the merch, the events, the consulting, the apps — they are all specialty products for niche audiences. Whether all of the offerings are making money is for another story.

“Last-minute shopping?” by Louise LeGresley used under a Creative Commons license.

November 09 2010

17:00

Meet Intersect, where storytelling, time, and location get all mashed up

It’s near impossible to tell a story that doesn’t have a place or a time. As readers and just as humans we have a difficult time connecting with a story — be it a friendly anecdote or a news article — that doesn’t tell us where it happened and when. As writing and storytelling has evolved online those two components have largely been relegated to the background — no less important of course, but often useful as metadata, a tag or pin on a map.

Intersect is trying to bring that information to the forefront of storytelling and wants people to build around what happens to them at fixed points in time and space. Part blogging tool, part social network, Intersect lets users tell stories as they are pegged to a certain time and place in a way that would eventually create a timeline for each user. But pulling back wider, Intersect will allow communities to share a more complete narrative of certain events.

An example? How about The Daily Show and Colbert Report’s Rally to Restore Sanity/March to Keep Fear Alive in Washington D.C. The Washington Post partnered with Intersect to tell stories from the event, both from attendees but also reporters:

The Story Lab team will be filing stories throughout Saturday’s events on the Mall via Intersect, a new site designed to collect and present stories live and from the scene. Here on washingtonpost.com and on Intersect’s site, we’ll be documenting the scene and asking those in attendance and those watching at home to weigh in on the politics vs. entertainment question. Please join us.

Let’s consider how this would work without Intersect: Anyone covering the event would hope for a universally accepted hashtag on Twitter, curate the best Tweets from the day, search for any photos on Flickr, and maybe, if they’re crafty, create a Google Map that pins Tweets and photos to locations on the National Mall.

Instead, with Intersect, any user can go in and automatically enter the time and location and proceed to write updates and post photos. (Like, say, the President get a donut while campaigning in Seattle.) But in order for Intersect to work they’ll need to answer two big questions: how to attract an audience to populate intersections, and how to introduce a new routine to users (i.e. get them to write about Intersections as much as they tweet or post to Facebook).

The Post partnership — an example of one potential route to an audience — was promoted online by the Post and Intersect, garnered its share of Twitter buzz and made a splash at the Online News Association conference, all of which seemed to generate interest in using the service on Rally day. Looking over Intersect there are more than 40 stories connected to the rally and the National Mall, each offering a different vantage point, the kinds reporters covering these type of events typically like to seek out.

Post reporters using a beta version of an Intersect iPhone app posted stories and photos that were fed to WashingtonPost.com and Intersect’s site, where they were side by side with updates from other users.

Since the content from the Rally was shared on both sites, Intersect demonstrated its value as both a platform for stories and a tool for crafting them. That may be key to any future success for Intersect, since they’ll need high visibility and a combination of big events and big partners willing to experiment.

Though Intersect is not expressly a platform for journalism, it could be applied to news gathering, as evidenced by the Post’s partnership. Intersect could allow journalists to either tap into an existing community to see what background they can provide for a story, or be used to invite others to tell a story. Guzman gives the example of Seattle’s Space Needle, which celebrates 50 years in 2012. A journalist could begin a story on Intersect about the needle and ask readers to fill in the history of the landmark over the last 50 years.

“It’s this idea of you can actually tell your whole story, go all the way back, see how you’ve changed,” Intersect’s director of editorial outreach Monica Guzman told me. “That’s kind of cool.” Guzman used to work at SeattlePI.com, where she ran its main blog.

Another reason Intersect could be valuable to journalists is that it’s a system set up to provide context in stories. “I think it’s absolutely critical. A lot of new media journalists are seeing that need to bring context back into journalism,” she said.

Intersect does have a social network meets real-world feel to it, as members have a presence online, but one tied to specific places. Instead of simply building online “community,” Intersect could also serve as a means of growing a physical community and connecting people around certain localities, like the story of the change in a neighborhood as told by the people who live there, Guzman said.

If the launch of services like Storify and Intersect tell us anything, it’s that aggregation and collaboration in storytelling may be reaching a new plateau, one where there is a symbiotic relationship between the technology and the craft behind how we share stories.

Guzman sees Intersect as part of the broader change in news, the transition from journalists as the sole keepers of news and information to journalists finding ways to collaborate and reach out to readers. “I learned through the Big Blog just how much news is becoming a conversation,” she said. “It’s about bringing out new voices and perspectives.”

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